The Starter - Valspar Championship

Mar 14th 2023

Nick DeMott

Updated throughout each tournament week, 'The Starter' will provide key news, notes, and other nuggets prior to the first tee time on Thursday morning. Think of it as an all-in-one resource to help guide you in the days leading up to the start of the tournament, as you prepare your fantasy golf lineups and entries. As soon as we receive valuable news updates on things such as tee times, featured groups, withdrawals and other course reports we’ll be sure to post them all here.

Brief Recap of The Players Championship

  • Scottie Scheffler won The Players for his 6th career PGA Tour victory and returned to the World No. 1 spot.

    • Scheffler joins Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods as the only golfers to ever hold The Masters and The Players Championship title simultaneously.

    • Scheffler shot all four rounds in the 60s at TPC Sawgrass; no one else in the field shot more than two rounds in the 60s.

    • Scheffler’s +17.167 SG: Tee-to-Green is the most ever by a winner of The Players Championship.

  • Tyrrell Hatton finished solo 2nd thanks to a record-tying 29 (-7) on the back nine of TPC Sawgrass on Sunday.

    • Hatton now has finished T6 or better in three of his last four starts.

    • Hatton gained 8.13 strokes on approach (3rd best in the field).

  • Tom Hoge finished T3 after making the cut on the number and shooting a new TPC Sawgrass course record of 62 (-10) on Saturday.

    • Hoge was 2nd in SG: Tee-to-Green (+11.64).

  • Min Woo Lee’s T6 at The Players Championship is his first career top-10 on the PGA Tour.

    • Lee needs to earn 53 more non-member FedExCup points to become eligible for Special Temporary Membership.

    • Lee's next event is expected to be the Dell Technologies Match Play in two weeks.

  • David Lingmerth (T6) has finished T11 or better in five of the seven events where he’s made the cut this season.

    • Prior to this season, Lingmerth's most recent top-10 on the PGA Tour was the 2017 Quicken Loans National.

  • Cam Davis (T6) broke his streak of five consecutive missed cuts to produce a top-10 finish at TPC Sawgrass.

  • Jerry Kelly (T54) became the oldest player to ever make the cut at The Players.

  • Jon Rahm withdrew just prior to his second-round tee time due to illness.

    • While this does not count as a missed cut, it did end Rahm's PGA Tour-leading made-cut streak at 25.

  • Rory McIlroy missed his first cut since the 2022 FedEx St. Jude Championship.

  • 3 holes-in-one were made at the Island Green (par-3 17th) at TPC Sawgrass by Hayden Buckley, Aaron Rai, and Alex Smalley.

    • Prior to this, no more than one hole-in-one had ever been made on the 17th at TPC Sawgrass in the same Players Championship.

Valspar Championship(March 16th-19th, 2023)

  • Innisbrook Resort (Copperhead Course) - Palm Harbor, FL

  • Event #20 of the 2022-23 FedExCup Regular Season

  • Full-field cut event


The final stop of the Florida Swing is the Tampa Bay area for the Valspar Championship. Coming off two consecutive elevated events with stacked fields, this week's Valspar Championship is understandably going to feel like a step-down.

Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth, Sam Burns, Matt Fitzpatrick, Tommy Fleetwood, and Keegan Bradley headline a field devoid of tons of highly-ranked golfers. You have two 2022 major champions in JT and Fitz who feel like they're searching for that spark from a season ago, Keegan trying to play his way onto the Ryder Cup team, Spieth rounding into form, and Fleetwood still seeking his first PGA Tour victory.

Though perhaps the biggest storyline of the week is Sam Burns attempting to become the first player to win the same event in three consecutive years since Steve Stricker (John Deere Classic, 2009-2011).

Additionally, if you're excited to watch the potential PGA Tour stars of tomorrow–Ludvig Aberg, Akshay Bhatia, Pierceson Coody, and so on–get an opportunity to compete then there's even more to look forward to this week at Innisbrook.

The Valspar Championship was established in 2000 and has been played at the Copperhead Course at Innisbrook Resort each year.

The Copperhead Course is known well for the "Snake Pit," another one of these stretches of holes on the PGA Tour that has earned a daunting nickname for playing so tough.

The Snake Pit is not quite as difficult as the Bear Trap or the finishing three holes at Quail Hollow, but nonetheless, holes 16, 17, and 18 at the Copperhead Course definitely make for a great closing stretch at Valspar.

The Course

While Innisbrook Resort's Copperhead Course has yielded some favorable scoring and a winning score at -17 in each of the last two seasons, historically this tree-lined venue presents a lot of challenges.

Water comes into play on half the holes but ultimately is not nearly as much of a factor as all of the other Florida Swing courses. There are several holes where water forces a layup off-the-tee or is just something to play away from, leading to more challenging second shots. Several doglegs also tend to force players to hit less than driver off-the-tee.

When you also add in 3.75-inch rough that comes into play on some of the most narrow fairways on the PGA Tour, the Copperhead Course requires a certain level of precision and being in the right position in the fairways.

In most years, the par-3s at the Copperhead Course lean toward the more difficult side. Much of this is due to length–on this year's scorecard, all four par-3 holes measure 195+ yards long. Holes 8 and 17 measure 215+ yards. (These numbers will vary though based on pin location and where the tee boxes are set up.)

In 2018 and 2019, the par-4s and par-5s both ranked near the top in terms of scoring difficulty on the PGA Tour. Again, length plays a big factor on these holes, whether it's the 600+ yard par-5 5th or the par-4 3rd that doglegs over water to cause a long approach shot.

Thick rough surrounding some of the more narrow fairways on TOUR can also contribute towards making these par-4s and par-5s more challenging.

The greens-in-regulation percentage at the 2018 Valspar was just 60.2% (the second-lowest on the PGA Tour that season). In 2019, the greens-in-regulation percentage was 59.7% which was the lowest on the PGA Tour that season.

Altogether, Innisbrook's Copperhead Course tends to present a good test of golf and really requires players to be dialed in tee-to-green. If the winds are up this week then the course expects to play even tougher.

Course Snapshot

  • Architect: Larry Packard (1971)

  • Yards: 7,340 (Par 71)

  • Fairway: Ryegrass overseed

  • Rough: 3.75" Ryegrass overseed

  • Greens: Poa Trivialis overseed

  • Avg. green size: 5,822 sq. ft.

  • Sand Bunkers: 74

  • Number of Water Hazards: 8

  • Number of Holes Water is in Play: 9

  • Changes to the course:

    • Rough height increased to 3.75" from 3" in previous years

    • Intermediate cut width around greens was decreased from 72" to 21" to bring the rough closer to the greens

    • The fairways are overseeded (they were not overseeded in 2021 since the event was played at the end of April)

Course Scoring Stats

In 2022, the Copperhead Course at Innisbrook Resort ranked as the 22nd most difficult course on the PGA Tour (out of 38) in terms of scoring average. Scoring at Innisbrook was pretty similar in 2021 (18th most difficult out of 40).

The Copperhead Course can play much more challenging though. In the 2016, 2018, and 2019 seasons, the course ranked in the top 5 in terms of scoring difficulty.

If the people who run the event want a return to difficult scoring conditions, this could explain why the rough has been grown almost a full inch longer for this year's tournament.

Winning Scores last ten years:

  • 2022: Sam Burns -17

  • 2021: Sam Burns -17

  • 2020: Cancelled due to COVID-19 pandemic

  • 2019: Paul Casey -8

  • 2018: Paul Casey -10

  • 2017: Adam Hadwin -14

  • 2016: Charl Schwartzel -7

  • 2015: Jordan Spieth -10

  • 2014: John Senden -7

  • 2013: Kevin Streelman -10

Additional scoring stats last three years:

  • 2022 Scoring Average: 70.23 (-0.77)

    • Birdie-or-Better: 19.78%

    • Bogey-or-Worse: 14.48%

  • 2021 Scoring Average: 70.96 (-0.04)

    • Birdie-or-Better: 17.79%

    • Bogey-or-Worse: 16.58%

Tournament cancelled in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • 2019 Scoring Average: 71.98 (+0.98)

    • Birdie-or-Better: 16.04%

    • Bogey-or-Worse: 19.75%

How Sam Burns gained strokes on the field in 2022:

  • SG Total: +14.00

  • SG T2G: +8.80 (4th)

  • SG OTT: -1.04 (56th)

  • SG APP: +7.00 (3rd)

  • SG ARG: +2.88 (13th)

  • SG PUTT: +5.16 (8th)

How Sam Burns gained strokes on the field in 2021:

  • SG Total: +16.72

  • SG T2G: +7.64 (5th)

  • SG OTT: +2.28 (15th)

  • SG APP: +3.72 (14th)

  • SG ARG: +1.64 (23rd)

  • SG PUTT: +9.08 (3rd)

The Field

  • Field Changes (-): Taylor Montgomery, Aaron Rai, Anders Albertson, Callum Tarren

  • Field Changes (-): Keegan Bradley WD on Wednesday (3/15)

  • Field Changes (+): Charley Hoffman, Hank Lebioda, Cameron Percy

  • Monday Qualifiers (+): Alex Chiarella, Chris Nido, Danny Guise, Peter Knade

  • Sponsor Exemptions (+): Martin Trainer, Ryan Gerard, Nick Gabrelcik, Ludvig Aberg, Pierceson Coody, Cole Hammer, Victor Perez

  • 10 of the OWGR Top-50 are in the field.

INJURY REPORT (as of 10AM ET, 3/14)


Matt Fitzpatrick (neck) - OWGR 13th

Fitzpatrick has said that he's fine with this neck issue he's dealt with for the past several weeks. There's little reason for him to play in the Valspar Championship for his third start in a row if there were any lingering concerns.

That said, it's still worth documenting this injury given Fitzpatrick's inconsistent play of late–three missed cuts in his last five starts.

Maverick McNealy (left shoulder) - OWGR 69th

McNealy returned to action last week at The Players Championship where he finished T60.

He withdrew from Pebble Beach and Phoenix, and then McNealy missed Genesis and API because of this shoulder injury. It appears that he's back to full health.

Ben Taylor (personal) - OWGR 105th

Taylor was eligible but did not play in The Players Championship because his wedding was scheduled for the same week.

Byeong Hun An (wrist) - OWGR 174th

An withdrew prior to his second-round tee time at the Arnold Palmer Invitational two weeks ago. Based on An's Instagram, it appears that the upcoming birth of his child may have also contributed to his decision to WD from API.

An returned to action at last week's Players Championship where he finished T35.

James Hahn (neck) - OWGR 316th

Hahn mentioned in a Twitter post last week that he's not been able to practice much because of a neck injury. The 41-year-old has not played well in 2023, missing the cut in 5/6 starts.

Austin Smotherman (personal) - OWGR 351st

Smotherman returned after a two-week absence and finished T35 at The Players Championship. As it turns out, Smotherman withdrew from Honda and Puerto Rico due to the birth of his child.


Keegan Bradley (illness) - OWGR 22nd

Bradley withdrew from this event on Wednesday due to an illness.

Taylor Montgomery - OWGR 56th

Pulled out of the Valspar on Sunday night following The Players Championship. Likely not injury related.

Aaron Rai - OWGR 120th

Rai withdrew from the Valspar Championship on Monday for an undisclosed reason. Given his T19 finish at last week's Players Championship, it seems less likely that Rai is dealing with an injury. Nonetheless, it will be worth monitoring Rai's status the next time he tees it up on the PGA Tour.

Callum Tarren - OWGR 158th

Pulled out of the Valspar field on Sunday afternoon for an undisclosed reason.

Anders Albertson - OWGR 401st

Albertson withdrew from the Valspar Championship on Monday for an undisclosed reason. The 29-year-old finished T21 at the Puerto Rico Open two weeks ago, which is his most recent start. It's unclear if Albertson suffered an injury since then.

Tee Times & Groupings for Rounds 1-2

Horses for Courses

Valspar Championship golfers with the highest “True Strokes Gained” (avg. adjusted strokes gained) at the Innisbrook Resort Copperhead course (min. two starts):

  • Sam Burns +2.61 (16 rounds)

  • Matthew NeSmith +2.22 (8)

  • Jordan Spieth +1.82 (18)

  • Justin Thomas +1.71 (18)

  • Justin Rose +1.50 (40)

  • Luke Donald +1.48 (42)

  • Matt Fitzpatrick +1.37 (6)

  • Jason Dufner +1.16 (46)

  • Webb Simpson +1.08 (36)

No surprise to see the back-to-back champ Sam Burns at the top of this list.

Matthew NeSmith finished T3 last year and T21 in 2021.

Jordan Spieth has not played Valspar since 2018 when he missed the cut. He won this event though in 2015 and finished T18 in 2016.

Justin Thomas finished T3 last year and T13 in 2021.

Justin Rose finished T5 here in 2018 and missed the cut in his most recent visit to the Valspar Championship in 2021.

Jason Dufner isn't quite the player he used to be. He finished T57 in his most recent start at Valspar in 2021; missed the cut in the two years prior and finished T11 in 2017.

Webb Simpson finished T8 at Valspar in 2018. Since then, he missed the cut in 2019 and finished T48 in 2022.

Notable finishes by golfers with just ONE career start at Innisbrook:

  • Davis Riley - Runner-up (2022)

  • Tommy Fleetwood - T16 (2022)

  • Austin Smotherman - T25 (2022)

  • Nate Lashley - T27 (2022)

  • Brandon Wu - T33 (2022)

Notables playing Innisbrook for the first time this week:

  • Maverick McNealy

  • Victor Perez

  • Justin Suh

  • Ben Taylor

  • Cole Hammer

  • Pierceson Coody

  • Will Gordon

  • Ben Griffin

  • Ludvig Aberg

Weather Report (as of 10AM ET, 3/14)